What causes neck pain?
Neck pain is commonly caused by repetitive or prolonged activities, or trauma such as car accidents and sports injuries. It results from:
- strains to muscles and tendons
- sprains to ligaments, joints or intervertebral discs of your cervical spine
- injuries to the nerves in your neck
Many muscles that attach to your neck also attach to your shoulders and upper back, so neck pain or dysfunction can cause problems in your shoulders or back. Alternatively, back or shoulder pain and dysfunction can cause problems in your neck.
Likewise, low back pain and dysfunction, as well as hip pain and dysfunction can also cause neck pain because they are functionally and neurally connected. They depend on each other for movement, balance and posture. Reflexes from your central nervous system control your neck muscles to automatically keep your head upright, regardless of what’s happening anywhere else in your body.
What are the signs and symptoms of neck pain?
People who suffer neck pain can also suffer:
- Neck stiffness and tightness
- Joint pain
- Restricted head and neck movement (commonly turning left or right)
- Altered posture
- Poor balance and co-ordination (proprioception)
- Upper back pain
- Shoulder pain or restricted movement
- Low back pain
- Hip pain
- Pain radiating into the arm
- Tingling, numbness or weakness
- Difficulty using the hand
Chronic neck pain (3 months or more) is associated with increased sensitivity to painful stimuli anywhere on your body, and no longer just your neck. This is caused by failure of your brain’s normal pain-inhibiting mechanisms and is known as central sensitisation. Central sensitisation involves increased activity of your immune and endocrine (hormone) systems, and commonly causes poor sleep that perpetuates hypersensitivity.
How do you treat neck pain?
Early treatment increases your likelihood of a speedy and complete recovery. Research shows that manual treatments and prescribed exercises reduce neck pain, improve movement and balance, and increase quality of life. If the cause of your neck pain is from your shoulders, upper back, lower back or hips then these areas also need to be treated.
Evidence-based natural medicine can help to normalise your immune and endocrine functions, and improve sleep, especially if your neck pain has become chronic.
References for further information:
Gross A, Langevin P, Burnie SJ, Bédard-Brochu MS, Empey B, Dugas E, et al. Manipulation and mobilisation for neck pain contrasted against an inactive control or another active treatment. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2015;(9):CD004249
Vos T, Barber RM, Bell B, Bertozzi-Villa A, Biryukov S, Bollinger I, et al. Global, regional, and national incidence, prevalence, and years lived with disability for 301 acute and chronic diseases and injuries in 188 countries, 1990–2013: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2013. Lancet. 2015;386(9995):743-800
Wong JJ, Shearer HM, Mior S, et al. Are manual therapies, passive physical modalities, or acupuncture effective for the management of patients with whiplash-associated disorders or neck pain and associated disorders? An update of the Bone and Joint Decade Task Force on Neck Pain and its Associated Disorders by the OPTIMa Collaboration. Spine J. 2016;16(12):1598-1630